Archive for November, 2009

Powered by Clean Currents: Solar Installation Continues at Bullis School

Posted on November 30, 2009. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , |

As the Gazette reports, the Bullis School of Potomac, MD has already been recognized as the top individual school green power purchaser, and now the school is stepping up its committment to clean energy by installing a 110.7 kw solar system on the roof of their arts building. Before Thanksgiving, the Clean Currents crew unloaded 540 panels and hoisted them on the roof with a crane. Now the team is in the process of installing the panels and hope to have the project completed by the end of the week.

Once the installation is complete, the system will provide about 20% of the building’s electricity. To finance the $700,000 project, Bullis is working with Washington Gas and Energy Services (WGES). WGES gets tax benefits from the project, and Bullis has agreed to purchase back the power generated by the system from WGES at an established rate for 20 years.

Students that walked by the arts building were definitely interested in what the giant crane was unloading on the roof. Soon physics students in Brittany Reed’s class will get a chance to learn more about how the panels work and even monitor the sunlight absorbed through a computer program. According to Reed,

“The idea is to get them to see that what we’re learning is more than just equations and problems we see on a sheet, that there’s actually real world applications for them…They always want to know, ‘Why do we care about this?’ This is one thing we have at our school that gives us that connection.”


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What is Osmotic Power?

Posted on November 24, 2009. Filed under: Events | Tags: , , |

Green Inc. reported today on today’s debut of an osmotic power pilot project in Norway. That’s cool, but what is osmotic power? Here is how Statkraft, the company that developed the Norwegian project explains it:

“Freshwater and saltwater are channeled into separate chambers, separated by an artificial membrane. The salt molecules in the seawater draw the freshwater through the membrane, causing the pressure on the seawater side to increase. This pressure is equivalent to a water column of 120 meters or, in other words, quite a significant waterfall. This pressure can be used in a turbine to make electricity.”

According to the company, this type of power generation has the potential to provide half of Europe’s power supply as a baseload (continuously available) power source. The development of osmotic power generation has been slow since the 1970s, but now with improvements in membrane technology, experts think it has the potential to take off. Osmotic power plants can be installed wherever salt water and freshwater are in the same vicinity- for example where a river meets the ocean or next to an existing desalination plant.

Was this coffee made by power from the osmotic power plant?

The Norwegian pilot, though a significant accomplishment for those involved, only contributes 4 kw of power to the grid. As the Green Inc. article points out, that’s enough to run a coffee grinder. Still, Eric Stilihagen, the VP of osmotic power at Statkraft is insistent in the potential of this technology:

“We really need to increase the speed to bring this technology into the market…We should do this much faster than we did with solar power and wind power.”


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Climate Change Special Issue in Yesterday’s WaPo Outlook

Posted on November 23, 2009. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , , , , , |

The Washington Post isn’t always equated with progressive commentary on climate change.  At least one regular columnist has been known to mis-interpret and mis-report the science of climate change. Nevertheless, yesterday’s Outlook special issue on climate change featured some decent coverage on the issue.

The contributors included Lester Brown, President of the Earth Policy Institute, Ralph Izzo, CEO of the Public Service Enterprise Group, and Bill McKibben, one of the founders of, as well as Washington Post writers that contributed columns on the topic.

Izzo’s article, “Let’s go with Cap and Innovate” talked about the efforts his energy company, PSEG, is taking to stay ahead of the curve on carbon cutting initiatives inlcuding energy efficiency program and solar and wind technologies. Izzo advocates a national carbon tax as envisioned in the house and senate climate legislation as a way to move forward on an international agreement and encourage domestic innovation and technological adaptation.

McKibben’s piece urged President Obama to “feel the heat” of climate change and to respond to it with the same vigor he expressed during his campaign. Although he acknowledged that Obama has done more to advance the US response to climate change than his predeccesors, but

“But doing more than George W. Bush on global warming is like doing more than George Wallace on racial healing. It gives you political cover, but the melting arctic ice is unimpressed.”

McKibben contrasts Obama with President Nasheed of the Maldives, another young, well-spoken and “change” oriented politician. Nasheed’s response to climate change has been inventive and vigorous, at least partly due to his small country’s precarious position in the middle of the ocean, highly vulnerable to any rise in the sea-level. McKibben applauds Nasheed’s enthusiasm inlcuding a recent underwater cabinet summit committing pledging to make the country carbon neutral by 2020. In his opinion, Obama could take a lesson from Nasheed and use rhetorical and presentation skills to get some fire back into the climate change policy.

He states:

“They both may go to the U.N.-sponsored climate conference in Copenhagen next month, but Nasheed will be there to say: Seize the moment. And if Obama makes it, he will be there to spin, to say, no doubt elegantly: Chill.”

Brown’s article warned about the consequences of climate change on global food supply which could lead to global instability.

Another interesting article looked at Germany’s climate change legislation and how it effected a blue-collar family in a small former coal town. The family was benefitting from green jobs, but had a hard time keeping up with high energy costs associated with being on the grid because they were unable to invest in solar or geothermal due to high up-front costs.

The section also featured a section look at ads that have been designed by various groups to try to convince diverse audiences to take action on climate change.

Here is one from the WWF:

You can view the rest of the ads here.

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More US Jobs from Proposed Texas Wind Farm?

Posted on November 19, 2009. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , , , |

In a follow up to the recent controversy around the proposed Texas wind farm. The issue was that a Chinese company (A-Power Generation Service)would manufacture the turbines in China, creating thousands of clean jobs in that country. That in itself was not an issue, but what did prove to be controversial was the fact that stimulus funds would go to fund the project and the number of jobs created in the US was not nearly at the same level (300 for construction and only about 20 permanent).

Green Inc. reports that US Renewable Energy Group and A-Power announced on Tuesday that the plan had been revised to inlcude

“A new production and assembly plant in the United States that will supply highly advanced wind energy turbines to renewable energy projects throughout North and South America.”

This announcement came after Senator Schumer (D-NY) said he would oppose stimulus funding of the project if the wind turbines were produced in China.

Still, as the Green Inc. post points out, there are a lot of uncertainties about the details of the plan, the big one being whether this new proposed plant will be used to supply to the turbines for this specific project or if it will be a separate effort.

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And the Winner is…

Posted on November 18, 2009. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , |

The latest Climate Counts scorecard is out and the winner is….Nike

The non-profit released its third annual climate scorecard assessing what various companies are saying and doing about climate change. The scorecard judges companies climate policy on 4 categories:

  • Review: How is the company measuring and tracking greenhouse gasses
  • Reduce: What is the company doing to reduce its carbon footprint and how this is incorporated into its operations
  • Policy Stance: Does the company support or oppose climate change legislation
  • Report: How is the company notifying the public about its findings

The total possible score for all 4 categories is 100 and companies are classified as “stuck” (12 or less points) “starting” (13-149 points) or “striding” (above 50 points).

As the top company for the second year in a row, Nike scored 83 points. Other top companies were Stonyfield Farm (81 points), Unilever (80 points) and HP (79 points).

Climate Counts hopes the scoreboard will inspire businesses to compete to reduce their carbon footprint and encourage them to take voluntary actions to stay ahead of the curve. 

The results are easy to read and displayed by industry so anyone visiting the site can quickly compare who is leading (they get the green striding icon) and who is falling behind (the ones with the red stuck icon). There is also the option to contact the company and let them know that climate action is important to you.

According to Climate Counts Executive Director Woods Turner:

“Competition – the most fundamental tenet of a thriving global marketplace – will define the future of corporate climate action and sustainability…Our scores show that companies are motivated to act when they may not measure up to other companies on their response to issues that matter to people.”

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Why Do You Support Clean Energy?

Posted on November 17, 2009. Filed under: Recommendations | Tags: , , , |

Check out the Alliance for Climate Protection’s Wall of videos, pictures and messages from supporters of clean energy. Among the mix are students, celebrities (Fran Drescher, Bill Nye the Science Guy), NGOs, companies and clean energy supporters from numerous fields from all across the country.

You can add your picture, video and message too! Its an inspiring break for a Tuesday afternoon!

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Is there hope for Copenhagen?

Posted on November 16, 2009. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , , |

Copenhagen 2009The UN Climate Change Conference (COP-15), a huge milestone for international climate change policy, is fast approaching. But will this much anticipated conference yield any concrete results? The buzz this weekend suggested that it would not.

Recent statements by world leaders, including President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton, attempt to soften expectations for the outcome of the meeting, framing it is a “stepping stone” to an eventual agreement rather than the birthplace of a binding international framework to replace Kyoto.

By calling the meeting a “stepping stone”, Secretary Clinton falls in the camp that believes international climate change policy will be like international trade policy–evolving rounds of agreements and negotiations without a concrete endpoint. The contrast to this evolving framework is an international treaty, like the Montreal Protocol, which addressed ozone depleting substances and was negotiated in the late 1980s.

At a side meeting during the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Singapore this weekend, the Prime Minister of Denmark, Lars Lokke Rasmussen indicated that it was unrealistic to expect a legally binding agreement out of the impending summit and that perhaps a more feasible goal was a politically binding promise to establish a treaty at a later meeting. According to Rasmussen, this would be, “one agreement, two steps”

So what does this mean for climate change policy? Its certainly a dissapointment for many climate change activists that were hoping to get a solid committment from the meeting. But was this ever a realistic expectation? As Andrew Revkin puts it in NY Times DotEarth Blog,

“Finding a common framework for action acceptable to 200-plus countries with variegated vulnerabilities, fuel choices, political systems and histories of emissions remains a daunting task.”

Clearly, the fact that a global agreement on climate change is going to be very difficult to reach, is not news in any way. Still, over the last year, there were many positive signs that encouraged many that an agreement would be possible. First of all, the new American President cared about climate change and appointed Todd Stern, a seasoned and informed climate envoy to represent the country in negotiations. A year ago, it seemed as though the US was ready to take the lead in the international climate policy and make an agreement happen. And Europeans were starting not to see us only as SUV driving, air conditioning- loving, fast food eaters.

And now? The European climate negotiators once again see the US as the obstacle to any progress on climate change. As the chief Spanish negotiator commented,

“There’s a certain level of frustration in seeing that not all countries share (the) vision.”

Its a tough time for a climate change agreement. In the US, record unemployment rates, a flailing economy, and the struggle for health care reform are dominating the scene, not leaving much energy for climate change. And without the US, there is no prospect for a global agreement. Still, domestic climate change legislation has passed the house and has been introduced in the Senate, despite other legislative priorities.

So Copenhagen may not be the meeting where a binding international agreement is negotiated, but it could be a constructive part of a continuing effort to find a solution to climate change.

Don’t give up hope just yet.

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MD, DE and VA Governors Sign Offshore Wind Agreement

Posted on November 12, 2009. Filed under: Events, News | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Back in September, Maryland announced that it was considering plans for offshore wind development. Now, it seems like the initiative is moving forward in cooperation with its neighbors. Tuesday, the Governors of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia signed a Memorandum of Understanding establishing a partnership for offshore wind development off their coasts.

The Governor’s discussed the benefits of offshore wind from the environmental and economic points of view. Governor O’Malley commented,

“Our states share many common resources and opportunities.  This collaboration will allow us to take full advantage of these opportunities and pool our collective abilities for not only a Smart, Green and Growing Maryland, but a cleaner and more sustainable region as well.”

Governor Kaine of Virginia and Governor Markell emphasized the necesssity to create jobs in these tough economic times and highlighted the potential of offshore wind development to create these opportunities.

The MOU is a step towards harnessing offshore wind power to create sustainable energy supply and green jobs for the three states. The key priorities of the agreement are:

  • Identify common transmission options for offshore wind
  • Develop strategies to encourage market demand for offshore wind power
  • Seek federal resources to develop offshore wind by working together.

Other points of the agreement:

  • Coordinate regional supply chain facilities to secure supply, deployment, and operations and maintenance functions to support offshore wind energy facilities,
  • Work with academic institutions in all three states to build capacity for wind related jobs.
And on a related note (sort of)… here is Governor O’Malley with Clean Currents Solar Business Development Associate, Katherine. The picture is from CCAN’s Climate Leaders Award Ceremony where the Governor recieved the Climate Leadership Award for his support of the Maryland Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Act, which passed earlier this year.
Governor O'Malley with Katherine from Clean Currents

Governor O'Malley with Katherine from Clean Currents

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Great Opportunity for Rockville Businesses: Green Power Buying Group

Posted on November 10, 2009. Filed under: Events, News | Tags: , , , , |

Rockville Town Center, Image from Cool Town Studios

Yesterday’s post focused on the “buy local” movement and how it applied to energy generation. The city of Rockville, Maryland has promoted the local trend with a “buy Rockville” campaign to boost local businesses. On Wednesdays through November, the city center featured an “out to lunch” farmer’s market to showcase local producers. Now, Clean Currents and the Rockville Chamber of Commerce are working together to help local businesses buy green power. Though the power is not locally produced, it brings local businesses together to make a positive environmental impact.

By purchasing power together, businesses that take part in the green power buying group will be able to take advantage of competitive bulk rates. Members will also recieve a discount on solar installations and energy efficiency audits from Clean Currents, allowing them to further their committment to green.

Gary Skulnik, President of Clean Currents, had this to say about the new green power buying group:

“As a Rockville business, we are proud that our local chamber is the first chamber in the state to recognize the need to switch to green energy…there’s a lot of talk about helping the environment, but the businesses and people in this city are taking concrete steps to truly make Rockville green.”

Andrea Jolly, from the Rockville Chamber of Commerce stated:

“We welcome the chance to help our members protect their bottom line, support the chamber, and protect the planet by working with Clean Currents”

Is your business interested? Come to the informational meeting for the first buying group, Nov. 19 at the Chevy Chase Suites Hotel.  Register at the Rockville Chamber of Commerce website.   

See the press release on the Clean Currents website.

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64% of US States Could Use In-State Renewables to Cover Energy Demand

Posted on November 9, 2009. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , , , , |

Last week, Treehugger picked up an interesting study from the Insitute for Local Self Reliancy. The study found that 64% of US states could be energy self sufficient with homegrown renewable fuels and that an additional 14% could get 75% of their energy from instate renewables.

The study examines local power generation options (see graphics below) and out the cost to the consumer from local power generation. The conclusion is:

  “The cost of constructing new transmission lines to carry that power and the electricity losses during transmission could result in an electricity cost to the customer that is about the same, or higher, than local generation with minimal transmission upgrades.”

This is definitely an exciting finding for proponents of decentralized energy generation (like the Institute for Local Self Reliancy), but Treehugger points out that although we no a lot of about the pros and cons of centralized generation but a lot less about the actual costs and feasibility of decentralized power production. But with “buy local” and “eat local” movements gaining strength for their obvious benefits to the local community in terms of job creation and environmental benefits to fossil fuel reductions,  perhaps a “local power” movement will really take off.

Here are some graphs about local potential generation for wind and solar from the ILSR study.


For more info on decentralized power generation, take a look at this article from AlterNet and the World Alliance for Decentralized Energy (WADE).

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